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Quite a Catch: Zebra Helps Fish Supplier Meet RFID Compliance Requirements
Wal-Mart has announced a major radio frequency identification (RFID) initiative that
requires its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID labels to shipments starting in January, 2005.
Wal-Mart’s initiative includes a phased implementation schedule that will eventually
extend RFID tagging requirements to most of its suppliers, including Beaver Street
Fisheries, a fish and seafood distributor in Jacksonville, Fla. Beaver Street Fisheries is not
one of Wal-Mart’s top suppliers and had until 2006 to comply, but the company
challenged itself to exceed expectations and be part of the first wave. The effort has
netted Beaver Street Fisheries a compliance tagging system that was in place more than a
year ahead of deadline, and has positioned the company to gain the early adopter
advantages it sought.
Beaver Street Fisheries imports from more than 50 countries and provides frozen fish,
meats and prepared foods to Wal-Mart, as well as other retailers, restaurants and
institutions. When Wal-Mart presented its phased RFID supplier tagging requirements to
its vendors, Beaver Street Fisheries learned only three of its product lines would be
affected, and thus would not have to label its products with Electronic Product Code
(EPC)-compliant RFID tags until January, 2006. Rather than wait, the company decided
to use the time to get ahead.
“Our management made a decision to be proactive with RFID,” said Beaver Street
Fisheries’ CIO Howard Stockdale. “There’s no real slam dunk ROI that’s served up on a
silver platter by RFID. We are thinking about how we can use it to get more efficient as
The first step for Beaver Street was solving the challenges of finding the best types of
RFID tags and labels for its products, and learning how to encode and apply them reliably
to cases and pallets. Beaver Street Fisheries had no previous experience with RFID, and
its eight-person IT department was also involved in two other major, high-priority
projects. To get started implementing RFID, Beaver Street Fisheries contacted Zebra
Technologies, its solutions provider for bar code labeling systems. “We’ve used Zebra
bar code printers for many years and they work great,” said Stockdale. “There was no
reason for us to look elsewhere.”
Zebra recommended The Danby Group to work with Beaver Street Fisheries. The Danby
Group is a Zebra Premier Partner and a Zebra Authorized RFID Specialist experienced
with both RFID and compliance labeling systems.
Beaver Street Fisheries set up an RFID test lab in its warehouses and conducted three
pilot projects. Various label placement options and types of EPC technology were tested.
The Danby Group integrated the smart label printing/encoding operations with Beaver
Street’s enterprise applications using rfid>Genesis, a software integration product
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developed by Franwell, Inc.
To label the subset of its cases and pallets that require EPC tags for Wal-Mart, Beaver
Street Fisheries developed a cart-mounted smart labeling solution. A Zebra R110Xi
printer on the cart encodes RFID inlays embedded within the label material and prints a
4-by-6-inch label in a single pass. The printer validates that tags are readable before they
are encoded. If the tag is unreadable, “VOID” is automatically printed on the label, and a
new label is encoded and produced.
Tagged cases are passed through a portal reader, to make sure the RFID tags are still
readable after they have been applied to cases. The density and moisture content of each
package of frozen fish is not identical, which makes reading performance inconsistent
and occasionally results in unreadable cases. The Danby Group and Beaver Street
Fisheries developed an order confirmation application that uses rfid>Genesis to process
data from the portal reader and compare the items with the customer’s order, which is
held in a SQL server database application.
Beaver Street Fisheries is using UHF Class 0+ and Class 1 EPC inlays in its smart labels,
which are currently approved and accepted RFID tag technologies. Wal-Mart will
eventually require EPC Class 1 Generation 2 (Gen 2) RFID technology, but not until the
specification is completed and compliant products become commercially available. Until
then, Wal-Mart is accepting a variety of EPC technologies.
“The R110 printers are great because they can encode both Class 0+ and Class 1 tags,”
said Stockdale. The R1110Xi is field-upgradeable to encode Gen 2 tags. Zebra will offer
a free software download to upgrade the printers once the Gen 2 specification is
Beaver Street Fisheries has experienced some quality problems with its tag suppliers, but
now only approximately five labels per roll are voided. Beaver Street also uses a Zebra
R4Mplus for some Class 1 encoding, and plans to deploy Zebra’s R110PAX print engine
as part of an inline printing/encoding system that will automatically apply 6-by-12-inch
corner-wrap labels to cases.
Beaver Street Fisheries met its compliance requirements more than a year ahead of
schedule, and is positioned to expand its tagging as necessary. The company is also
positioned to seamlessly upgrade to Class 1 Generation 2 technology with no new
investment required in printing equipment.
“Beaver Street has gone from managing shipping with a clipboard, to employing cutting-
edge RFID technology,” said Rich Bruce of The Danby Group. “Its management had a
vision. They wanted to be the first in their industry to be RFID-enabled. Now they are
capitalizing on this vision to improve their business.”
Stockdale is now looking beyond compliance to find ways to improve internal operations
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with RFID. “There is not a whole lot of efficiency to be gained by just doing slap-and-
ship,” said Stockdale. “We’re exploring how we can apply RFID to different areas. We
are asking, ‘How can we leverage RFID to make the most of our investment.”
One potential application is to use shipment data collected via RFID to automatically
create a bill of lading and advance ship notice for electronic data interchange (EDI)
Another option is to push compliance labeling requirements to Beaver Street Fisheries’
worldwide suppliers, so products would be tagged at their source. Stockdale has
implemented a test with Beaver Street’s Nassau subsidiary to tag product shipped from
the Bahamas to the Jacksonville facility. He plans to use ZebraNet remote printer
monitoring and control capabilities from Zebra to automatically generate smart labels. If
this test is successful, this same method will be used with their many partners at their
overseas packaging facilities so product could be labeled onsite. This allows Beaver
Street to track all product received, inventoried, converted and shipped at the corporate
facility via RFID.
“We have a lot of visions about what we can do with the technology. It’s very powerful,
but it requires changes to business processes and software engineering,” said Stockdale.
“We have looked at doing many different things with RFID, and I have a lot of
confidence that Zebra will be able to support our continuing efforts. We’ve used their bar
code printers for years, they just work like a tank, and I just don’t think that smart label
printing will deviate from our Zebra experience.”